While I'm happy that this film's opening seems to be a success ($215 million is nothing to sneeze at, especially in this sort-of post-Covid era), while I was watching it I thought, "This is a few years too late." Knowing Natasha's fate in Avengers: Endgame casts a pall over the entire movie, and the post-credits scene brings it home.
(Yes, I'm still mad about that. That creative choice, to put no fine point on it, was stupid. Natasha worked her butt off post-Snap to keep the Avengers together, while Clint Barton was running around playing vigilante and murdering people, and she's the one to sacrifice herself? Fuck that. I don't care if Hawkeye had a wife and kids he would presumably be reunited with if the Snappees were returned. Stark Industries could have supported his family if need be.)
Now: SPOILERS follow.
Unfortunately, a good part of this film seems to exist to set up Natasha's younger adopted sister, Yelena, as the next Black Widow, both in the films and on Disney Plus. While Florence Pugh is wonderful in the role, one occasionally gets the feeling that Natasha is the sidekick in her own movie. (This is not helped by the fact that David Harbor, as the aging Russian supersoldier the Red Guardian and Natasha's adoptive father, sometimes cringingly overacts.) Maybe because of this, Scarlett Johanssen's performance, while adequate, is not outstanding, except during her scenes with her adoptive mother, Rachel Weisz. The antagonists, Dreykov the founder of the Russian assassin training academy the Red Room and his super-suited, super-powered killer Taskmaster, are not that compelling (even with the twist that Taskmaster is the daughter Natasha attempted to assassinate in Budapest years ago).
As far as I was concerned, the best (and the most bittersweet) scene in the entire movie is the post-credits scene. The film is set in 2016, post-Captain America: Civil War, but this scene is set post-Avengers: Endgame and apparently close to the events of the Disney Plus TV series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. This is because as Yelena goes to visit Natasha's grave, she runs into the mysterious woman from that series, the Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. In the series, Valentina was shown recruiting John Walker's US Agent to be a part of her (maybe) villainous team, and now we see Yelena is on Valentina's payroll as well. Valentina says she has Yelena's next target: the man behind her sister's death. She opens a tablet and we see a picture of Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye. The Contessa Valentina was supposed to be introduced to the Marvelverse via this film, but having seen her in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, her appearance here actually makes more of an impact.
Having said all this, the film was well directed, structured and paced. The mandatory action set pieces were interspersed with quieter character-building moments. The usual overblown third act CGI was, surprisingly, more restrained than I have ever seen in a Marvel film (or maybe the technology is just getting better). But unfortunately, in the end, except for Yelena, the movie feels like a throwaway. It's not too little, but in the case of Natasha Romanoff, it's sadly too late.